Arc System Works proves to be the best fighting game developer with Granblue Fantasy Versus.
There have been so many facets of my life that have changed since I started working with DualShockers. Most notably, my gaming habits and interests have completely changed. There was a time where I believed long single-player experiences were the best games the medium could offer. Games like Mass Effect, Skyrim, and World of Warcraft were the peak of game design. Now, that is entirely not the case.
I have begun to favor much tighter, shorter experiences. Games such as The Messenger, What Remains of Edith Finch, and Emily is Away are among my favorite games of all-time. This also includes competitive gaming, arguably the tightest, and shortest experiences you can have in a video game — especially with the fighting genre. I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing most of the modern lineup you would see at EVO (Mortal Kombat 11, Samurai Shodown, and Under-Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r]). Each feels familiar but makes slight deviations to create a wholly unique experience. Granblue Fantasy Versus by Arc System Works and Cygames is no different.
The one aspect of Granblue Fantasy Versus you will quickly notice in your first match is the visuals. They’re legitimately stunning. It is one of the best looking fighting games I have ever played. The amalgamation of the character designs, the bright environments, and aggressive animations all flow so well together. Everything is just so clear, which is both visually pleasing, and helpful for gameplay. It’s on par with Dragon Ball FighterZ, another Arc System Works game that arguably is the best looking fighting game of the past few years.
While I do think the overall visual quality is fantastic, the animations, specifically during the opening match cinematics and the super special “skybound art” moves, are a bit off-putting. The game runs at a solid 60 fps, but the character model animations look like they run below 40 fps. This is to simulate the motions you would see in an anime. A similar technique was done with Dragon Ball FighterZ‘s opening match cinematics. I understand the appeal of using this animation technique, but it just feels out of place, especially when the rest of the animations surrounding it are in 60 fps.
The actual gameplay of Granblue Fantasy Versus is not unlike other fighting games. There are light, medium, and heavy attacks. The fourth input is character-specific. It is all fairly standard. However, there are a few facets of its gameplay that really deviate from the norm.
Similar to Dragon Ball FighterZ, and to a lesser extent Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r], combos are executed automatically by simply pressing one of the three attack inputs. The button you press determines if it is a light, medium, or heavy combo. It is incredibly simple and very approachable for players who may not play fighting games regularly.
Adding to Granblue Fantasy Versus‘ approachability is how special attacks are executed. Instead of inputting a quick button combo (i.e. quarter circle+light attack, etc.), you can simply use variations of R1 and a direction on the d-pad or analog stick (if you’re using a DualShock 4); pressing the heavy attack input while executing special moves with this technique will give you a stronger special move. Additionally, inspired by Granblue Fantasy‘s roots, there are cooldowns for these special moves; the stronger the special move, the longer the cooldown. Of course, there are traditional inputs for special moves (called technical commands), which are beneficial as they have shorter cooldowns.
If that didn’t seem easy enough, any basic attack can be canceled into a special move. For example, your auto-combo might be three medium attacks in a row. Well, at any point during that combo, whether it is after the first or third input, you can cancel into a special move. This includes “skybound arts” which can be done by pressing quarter circle+R1. These are essentially super special attacks you can execute once your meter (known as the SBA gauge) is full.
Granblue Fantasy Versus is maybe the most intuitive and beginner-friendly fighting game I have ever played. Because of these simplified inputs, pulling off effective combos is a cinch. However, the game’s accessible nature should not be mistaken for lack of depth. I’ve played hours of this game and I am still getting whooped by other players who are far better at reading their opponent’s moves and executing even more intense combos. Every time I felt like I learned enough to be competitive, I then discovered something entirely new. It’s disheartening because I’m terrible, but it keeps me wanting to learn more about its systems and get better an using them to my advantage.
Learning the basics and even some of the advanced techniques of Granblue Fantasy Versus can be done naturally by playing the traditional Arcade Mode or going into Free Training. However, there is a tutorial (called “Mission Training”) that can teach you these basics, as well as some easy combos to get you started. There are also character-specific scenarios that will test how well you can defend, maneuver, or punish certain moves.
Much of the Mission Training is helpful and will get you started in Granblue Fantasy Versus, but it will do only that. Other fighting game tutorials, like the ones found in Mortal Kombat 11 and Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late[cl-r], explain everything you need to know in tremendous depth. It’s impressive how much more I know about playing a fighting game because of Mortal Kombat 11‘s tutorial. I can’t really say the same about Granblue Fantasy Versus‘ tutorial. It is by no means bad, but I wish it went into the nitty-gritty of it all.
Everything you have learned can be tested online against real players. Overall, I would say the online experience for Granblue Fantasy Versus was positive. Out of the few matches I played online, it never felt like there was a noticeable amount of input lag, or that the match itself was lagging. It was a smooth experience throughout my online time.
While much of my time was getting absolutely crushed in Ranked, you can play casual online matches in Granblue Fantasy Versus via its lobby system, which I absolutely adore. When you first boot an online lobby, you will get to choose a cutesy avatar based on one of the few characters, as well as your default character you will fight with. The lobby I was in was aboard a skyship, which can hold up to 64 players at a time. Aboard the ship were Granblue Fantasy Versus arcade machines, which essentially act as the queue. A play can then approach the same connecting cabinet and fight against you. Again, everything worked as intended, but was unexpectedly adorable as well.
If competitive fighting games aren’t your bag, there is a single-player story called RPG Mode. To put it simply, Gran and his skyfaring crew are tasked to save the world from an evil long-haired man named Beezelbub who plans on restarting the entire universe. I put it simply because it’s entirely forgettable. In the moment, I was interested in its story, but it gets so monotonous by the time you get to the third level, I would just finish the quests as fast as I could.
My qualms are mostly pointed at the lack of variety the quests hold. The majority of these quests task you to simply kill the enemies on screen, or kill as many as you can within a certain time period. Enemy variety is mostly stagnant, until the latter half where darker versions of those enemies appear. It just gets tedious and boring.
It is interesting that the mechanics do switch up a tad bit during these portions. Since there are multiple enemies on screen, you are not constantly facing an enemy like you are during Versus Mode. Rather, your left and right movements determine where your attack will land. It is akin to a side-scrolling beat-em-up but with fighting game controls. It is novel at first, but that novelty wears off very quickly.
There are moments called Raid Battles that do change things up but only for those few moments. Raid Battles are more akin to the traditional mechanics of Versus Mode, as you are only facing one opponent. However, these can range from other characters on the roster, to giant dragons. Each one of these bosses felt unique, both visually and in gameplay, and are really the only reason to check this mode out.
After you’ve completed each quest, you’ll earn weapons and abilities you can equip. This is where the RPG elements come in (along with the previously mentioned special moves). Each weapon features one of six elements: Fire, Wind, Water, Earth, Light, and Dark. Weapons also feature skills that help increase your attack or HP. These weapons can be upgraded with the in-game currency which will increase the actual level of the weapon, with skill shards which will level the weapon’s skills, and by feeding it copies of the weapon to increase the level cap.
When you equip a weapon, it becomes part of a grid, which you can add more weapons to, giving you more attack power and HP. As such, it promotes some experimentation, as you can add any weapon to the grid. However, Granblue Fantasy Versus‘ CPU fighters are so easy to take down in its default difficulty, you hardly have to tweak anything. I was perfectly fine with just using the auto-select feature, automatically places weapons on the grid for you.
The RPG Mode also features the Tower of Babyl, which is an extension of that story that adds a plethora of missions. There are a total of 100 floors, each following either one of the few quest structures from the main story. Along with unlocking Hard Mode after you beat the four to six-hour story, there is plenty to do once the story is done. You can also play cooperatively with another player, which may distract you from the tedium to a certain degree. It’s just too bad the majority of the quests are so repetitive.
Granblue Fantasy Versus is such an amazing fighting game. The mechanics are both intuitive and full of depth, making it a solid choice for both fighting game casuals and veterans. The visuals are gorgeous, with an animated aesthetic that allows it to stand out amongst the crowded genre. Its online features, although simple, are functional and allow you to really test out everything you’ve learned from its decent tutorial. The only downside is its RPG Mode, which may be filled to the brim with monotony, but it still has moments that are worth checking out. I cannot recommend Arc System Works and Cygames’ newest fighter enough. Granblue Fantasy Versus is a must-have for fighting game fans.